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Matthews v. Villella

February 6, 2009

CHAKA A. MATTHEWS, PLAINTIFF
v.
SERGEANT VILLELLA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Jones

(Magistrate Judge Blewitt)

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt (Doc. 15), which recommends that this action be dismissed as against certain defendants pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1915A and allowed to proceed as against other defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the Report and Recommendation will be adopted in part and rejected in part, and this action will be dismissed in its entirety. Also before the Court are a series of motions filed by the plaintiff Chaka Matthews, which are disposed of as indicated below.

I. BACKGROUND

The gravamen of Matthews' pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is that he was subject to excessive use of force in violation of the Eighth Amendment while confined at the State Correctional Institution at Waymart ("SCI-Waymart").*fn1

Matthews alleges that on December 5, 2007, while coming from the shower in the restricted housing unit ("RHU") in handcuffs, he was ordered by Corrections Officers Villella and Heberling to enter cell 1013.*fn2 (Compl.., Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8-9.) Matthews further alleges that after he was placed in the cell and the door shut, the cell door slot or "wicker" was opened by Officer Heberling and he was ordered to place his hands through to have his handcuffs removed. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-12.) Matthews alleges that he placed his hands through the wicker and that Officer Villella "took the liberty to assault Matthews with a billyclub." (Id. at ¶ 13.) Matthews asked Officer Villella why he hit him, but Officer Villella did not respond. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.) Matthews alleges that Officer Heberling also asked Officer Villella "what are you doing." (Id. at ¶ 18.) Matthews alleges that Officer Villella later returned, telling Matthews "I got you good," and bending his index finger. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Matthews states that neither Officer Heberling nor any other RHU staff member reported the incident. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

Matthews states that Officer Villella "smashed the pointer finger" of his right hand, and that this action "inflammed" [sic] his "prior injury of a broken tendons [sic]" in the hand. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 20-21.) Matthews alleges that he showed his finger to Officer Villella who said "your finger don't look broken to me" and walked away. (Id. at ¶ 23-24.) Nevertheless, Matthews requested and was given x-rays of his finger. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.) However, Matthews complains that despite his requests for "a splint to support the bent/broken tendons," he was instead given a buddy wrap, which he alleges was "insufficient for the type of injury" he sustained. (Id. at ¶ 27.)

Matthews's complaint asserts an excessive use of force cause of action and names as defendants Officer Villella, Officer Heberling, Corrections Officer Heidi, Corrections Officer Evans, and "RHU Unit Staff." (Id. at Caption, ¶ 28.) Matthews requests the following relief: (1) a declaration that defendants violated his constitutional rights; (2) termination of Officer Villella and correctional officers that witnessed the December 5, 2007 incident but did not report it; (3) criminal charges against these officers; (4) that the yearly salaries of all these officers be paid to him as compensation for his pain and suffering; and (5) a formal written apology from the Department of Corrections. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Matthews also generally requests compensatory and punitive damages.*fn3 (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 32.)

II. REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

The Report and Recommendation first recommends that Matthews's claims against the unnamed "RHU Unit Staff" defendants be dismissed without prejudice to Matthews's ability to name such additional defendants once they are identified. (Doc. 15 at 8-9.) Next, it is recommended that Matthews's claims against Officers Heidi and Evans be dismissed for failure to allege their personal involvement in any alleged constitutional violation. (Id. at 9-10.) It is further recommended that Matthews' excessive use of force claims against Officers Villella and Heberling be allowed to proceed. Finally, it is recommended that Matthews's improper requests for criminal charges to be brought against the defendants, for their termination, and for their salaries to be paid to him be stricken, and that his claims for monetary damages against the defendants in their official capacities be dismissed as barred by sovereign immunity.

In response to the Report and Recommendation, Matthews first filed a submission styled an amended complaint (Doc. 17). This submission, however, only objects to the recommended dismissal of his claims against Officers Heidi and Evans, and therefore, the Court will construe it as objections to the Report and Recommendation. Matthews also filed further objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 18)

Because Matthews has filed objections, the Court will make a de novo review of the Report and Recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). Under this standard, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 674-75; see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984). For the following reasons, the Court will adopt in part and reject in part the Magistrate Judge's recommends as set forth below.

As noted above, in screening a prisoner's complaint pursuant to § 1915A, the Court applies the same standard employed in ruling on a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Courteau, 287 Fed. Appx. at 163. In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. "However, a court need not credit either 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss." Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).

A. Improper Requests for Relief

The Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that Matthews's request for criminal charges to be brought against the defendants, for their termination, and for their salaries to be paid to him be stricken. "Plaintiff, a private citizen, is without authority to prosecute criminal charges, and this Court is without authority to do so on Plaintiff's behalf, since it is well established that private citizens can neither bring a direct criminal action against another person nor can they petition the federal courts to compel the criminal prosecution of another person." Caracter v. Avshalumov, 2006 WL 3231465, at *3 (D.N.J. Nov. 8, 2006) (citations omitted). The Court is also without authority to order the defendants' employment terminated, and the amount of damages, if any, to which Matthews is entitled will be determined by proper proof in this action. Matthews's improper requests for relief will be stricken.

B. Official Capacity Claims

The Court will also adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that Matthews's claims against the defendants in their official capacities be dismissed. The Eleventh Amendment "make states generally immune from suit by private parties in federal court." MCI Telecomm. Corp. v. Bell Atl. Pa., 271 F.3d 491, 503 (3d Cir. 2001). The Eleventh Amendment also bars a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity because it "is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such it is it is no different from a suit against the State itself." Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

"Eleventh Amendment immunity is subject to three exceptions: 1) congressional abrogation, 2) state waiver, and 3) suits against individual state officers for prospective relief to end an ongoing violation of federal law." MCI Telecomm., 271 F.3d at 503. The first and third exceptions are plainly inapplicable in this case. As to the second exception, under 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8522, the Pennsylvania has waived sovereign immunity "for damages arising out of a negligent act where the damages would be recoverable under the common law or a statute creating a cause of action if the injury were caused by a person not having available the defense of sovereign immunity" in nine specific circumstances, including claims arising out of "[t]he care, custody or control of personal property in the possession or control of Commonwealth parties." 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8522(a), (b)(3).

Matthews argues that Pennsylvania's "personal property" waiver of immunity applies to his claims "because inmates are state property." (Doc. 18 ¶ 11.) As an initial matter, the exceptions to immunity set forth in § 8522 apply only to negligent acts, see Clark v. SEPTA, 691 A.2d 988, 992 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1997); Rodriguez v. Smith, 2005 WL 1484591, at *8 (E.D. Pa. June 21, 2005), and Matthews claims that Officer Vallella assaulted him intentionally, not negligently. In addition, the personal property exception applies only where the personal property itself is alleged to have caused the injury. See Sugalski v. Pennsylvania, 569 A.2d 1017, 1019 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1990). Most importantly, however, inmates are decidedly not "state property." See U.S. Const., Amend. XIII ("Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."). Matthews is incarcerated as punishment for a crime against ...


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